Strengthening rural communities

Strengthening rural communities

The vulnerability and fragility of the countryside are not always recognised today. But the disparity between rural and urban communities in the UK has been a cause for concern, for many years, for those who care about the future of the British countryside and those who live and work in it.

Countryside landscape with sheep
"These are big issues to tackle and that is why we need the help of Churchill Fellows." - Elizabeth Buchanan, Advisory Council member

There is one particularly stark difference between the deprivation faced in urban and rural areas: unlike the inner cities, in the countryside many problems are hidden from the eye of the casual observer. Those people facing the hardest times are often living cheek-by-jowl with the better-off. While they may live amongst beautiful scenery, this does not make their problems any less real or urgent.

That is why I am particularly delighted that in September the Churchill Fellowship will open for applications that explore new ways to strengthen rural communities and make them more resilient. There are so many different approaches to this – perhaps by finding a way to invigorate transport networks, or reimagine affordable housing, or create new employment and enterprise opportunities, or improve access to education, healthcare and culture, or to overcome loneliness and isolation.

As a member of the Fellowship’s Advisory Council, I was delighted to be part of a team which developed this theme. Having been involved in this area over many years, both as Private Secretary to The Prince of Wales, whose knowledge of and commitment to rural Britain knows no bounds, and today as a Non-Executive Director of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I know the determination, thoughtfulness and ingenuity that exists within rural communities. My hope is that the Fellowship will give wings to individuals with ideas to make a real difference for the better to the places and people they love.

The fact is that the 17 million people who live in rural communities have as much right to a good life as those in urban areas. Furthermore, these hamlets, villages and market towns matter – they are absolutely a part of what makes this country as special as it is, and we know these beautiful places give something of immense value to countless people who only visit them on holidays. But they can be even more than that.

Rural communities that are socially and economically resilient can be one of the foundations for Britain post-Covid, post-Brexit, post-COP26, in which small businesses, farming and the environment will play – must play – an increasing part. The green revolution, much of which must happen in the countryside, will need people and they will need homes and all the other associated services. Our younger generation – on which any community depends – must be able to live in rural communities if they wish. Currently they cannot afford to stay and we are creating unbalanced communities made up of the elderly and the wealthy incomers.

These are big issues to tackle and that is why we need the help of Churchill Fellows, to find new and replicable ways to ensure that we have a resilient, vibrant and thriving countryside.

I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to reading the applications and then witnessing the transformative work of Fellows in this theme.

Elizabeth Buchanan is a member of our Advisory Council and a non-executive director of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is a trustee of The Prince’s Countryside Fund and a Senior Associate of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. An organic beef farmer in East Sussex, Elizabeth is a special advisor to Waitrose, McDonald’s and Saputo and sits on the BBC’s Rural Affairs Committee.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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